Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and yet most of us don’t give it much thought until it misbehaves in the form of a rash, shingles, or unwanted wrinkles. While you may not think much about your skin, it can give your practitioner of Chinese medicine a number of clues to the condition of your health.
In Chinese medicine, your skin guards the outside of your body, and is most closely related to your Lung organ system. That’s because while your Lungs are an internal organ, they are also considered to guard the exterior of your body, too. With every breath you take your Lungs bring air from the outside world into the interior of your body. Furthermore as the caretaker of the exterior of your body, your Lungs are responsible for the health of your hair, the opening and closing of your pores, sweating, heat regulation, immunity, and the health and appearance of your skin.
To a practitioner of Chinese medicine, what’s going on with your skin can tell a lot about what’s going on inside your body. For example, very dry and flaky skin may indicate that you are chronically dry internally. In contrast a moist and red rash could indicate internal heat and dampness. The strategy in treating skin conditions is to treat the underlying imbalance, such as dryness, internal heat, or dampness, and the skin condition will clear up.
Some skin conditions that can be effectively treated with acupuncture and Chinese medicine include:
- Rashes. When your skin erupts with a rash, frequently its cause is hard to pinpoint. However, the characteristics of your rash tell your practitioner a lot about what’s going on and how best to treat it. For example, rashes that are blistered or moist would be diagnosed as damp; those that are red are related to heat; pale rashes tend to be associated with cold; and those that are very itchy would be diagnosed as a kind of wind—a pathogen that moves around, flares and recedes, and itches. In many cases, your rash might be diagnosed as a combination of these pathogens, so your itchy and red rash would be treated as wind and heat. Rashes can usually be resolved through a combination of acupuncture, an herbal formula, and topical herbs in the form of a salve or a soak.
- Hives. Also known as urticaria, are almost always diagnosed as having some element of wind as its diagnosis. Like wind, hives tend to come and go, move from place to place on your body, and can be really itchy. Determining the cause of your hives can be a little tricky, because it can come from something internal, like a food allergy; or externally, such as a reaction to something touching your skin. That said, there are good acupuncture points and herbs that are effective for treating external wind.
- Shingles. Are not exclusively a skin condition. Caused by a virus similar to that of Chickenpox, shingles shows up as a bright red, blistering rash accompanied by pain. Once you’ve had Chickenpox, the virus can lie dormant in your spinal nerves for years. The pain associated with shingles is from inflamed nerves, and is almost always appears on only one side of your body. Some people may experience intense nerve pain, even after the rash has long disappeared. In Chinese medicine, shingles are considered to be toxic heat and dampness, similar to that of an infection. Treatment for the active rash involves acupuncture to clear the heat and resolve the dampness. For the residual nerve pain after the rash is gone, your treatment would be geared toward pain relief and tailored to your specific body constitution.
- Dry skin. For many people, dry skin goes well beyond flaky winter itch. Some people have skin so dry that it becomes thickened, cracked, and inflamed. In most cases, deep and chronically dry skin comes from being dry internally. Frequently, the dryness comes from a depletion of Yin, a vital substance that is moistening, nourishing, and cooling. Treatment for Yin depletion can take some time, but would involve a combination of acupuncture, herbs, and dietary changes to include more Yin-promoting foods and healthy fats.
- Rosacea and acne are usually caused by heat in your body, which can be seen in the redness of the eruptions. However, unlike most rashes, the heat associated with these two conditions tends to be deeper and more chronic. Treatment for either of these conditions would involve both acupuncture and herbs that clear heat, as well as some dietary changes.
- Wrinkles. When you age, the years show up on your skin in the form of wrinkles, fine lines, and loss of elasticity. If you’re looking for a natural way to improve the appearance of your skin, acupuncture may offer a solution. That’s because acupuncture increases circulation and reduces inflammation in the areas where needles are placed. In addition, each needle creates something called a microtrauma, which is a tiny wound that your body heals by increasing collagen and elastin in the area as it repairs your skin. In Chinese medicine, the practice of cosmetic acupuncture involves a series of treatments in which tiny needles are placed into acupuncture points in your face for the purpose of increasing circulation, bringing nutrients to the area, and building collagen and elastin. The result is a healthier looking face. Many patients who have undergone cosmetic acupuncture notice a decrease of fine lines and puffiness, especially around their eyes, as well as a softening of the deeper wrinkles.
Cindy Chamberlain is an acupuncturist in Overland Park, KS and the founder of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC. She is licensed in Kansas and Missouri and has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine since 1996.